Valdes Delivers the High Sign
Dodger catcher Mike Piazza sat on the bench Monday listening to the accusations. His curiosity was aroused. He has no idea whether the Colorado Rockies are cheating at Coors Field, somehow stealing signs, but he now was becoming awfully suspicious.
This was no time to take chances, Piazza figured. So he walked up to starter Ismael Valdes moments before the Dodgers’ 6-4 victory over the Rockies and informed him that he would be changing signs throughout the game. If there’s espionage going on, Piazza was determined to ruin it.
It’s impossible to determine the actual effect of Piazza’s plan, but there was no secret that there was something awfully different going on in front of another sellout crowd of 48,013 at Coors Field.
“I think it made some difference, don’t you?” Piazza beamed. “We changed signs every two batters, and look at what happened. They didn’t look the same.”
Valdes made the Rockies look downright foolish in his seven-inning performance. He limited the Rockies to only five hits and two runs, and incredibly, had twice as many hits himself (two) than the combined total of Ellis Burks, Dante Bichette and Andres Galarraga (one for 11).
“I don’t think you can get a better-pitched game at this ballpark,” Piazza. “He came at them aggressively and shut them down right away.”
The Dodgers’ victory, their 19th in the last 24 games, allowed them to maintain a half-game lead over the San Diego Padres in the National League West. The Dodgers (85-65) also virtually eliminated the Rockies, whose eight-game winning streak ended. They are 6 1/2 games back with only 11 remaining.
“This is the classic race,” said Fred Claire, Dodger executive vice president. “This is what it’s all about. It doesn’t get any better than this.
“We’re at a point in the season when you do it, if you do it, you’ll never forget it.”
Certainly, Valdes put on a performance to be remembered. He stepped on the same mound where the Dodger pitching staff was trashed in June for a .416 batting average and 52 runs in a four-game series. The Rockies scored at least 10 runs in each game.
“But you’re not going to be bombing that ballclub the way they’re playing right now,” Colorado Manager Don Baylor said, “and certainly not the way they’re pitching.”
Valdes (14-7), who has a 3-0 record with a 4.21 earned-run average at Coors Field, let his teammates know it’s certainly possible to perform well there. The Dodger pitching staff threw only one inside fastball that backed a Rocky hitter off the plate in June. This night, Valdes threw the ball inside all night, and when they looked inside, he was fooling them on the outside.
“Let me tell you, I’m still one of those pitchers who are intimidated by this park,” Valdes said. “A fly ball turns into a home run here. You can never feel comfortable, I’ll tell you that.
“I’d prefer to pitch in all of the other parks than this one. I don’t like to pitch here. But you’ve got to do what you’ve got to do.”
While Valdes kept the Rockies to their lowest run total at Coors Field since Aug. 27, he shocked everyone with his offense.
Valdes came into the game batting .115 with one RBI in 75 plate appearances, but started one rally with a leadoff single and triggered another with a run-scoring single, providing the Dodgers with a 4-0 lead by the fourth inning.
Meanwhile, Valdes pitched a no-hitter for the first three innings and had a shutout for five.
Then, remembering this is Coors Field, he started to succumb to the elements.
He yielded two runs in the sixth inning, and with two outs and Burks on second base, Galarraga hit a screaming line drive. Third baseman Tim Wallach lunged to his left, and snared the ball, saving the Dodgers a run.
Valdes maintained his 4-2 lead through the seventh. He stepped aside for reliever Antonio Osuna in the eighth, and almost watched his lead dissipate.
Osuna was greeted by back-to-back singles, and then faced the ugly prospect of watching Burks come to the plate, with Bichette and Galarraga to follow. The trio has combined for 113 homers and 401 RBIs this season.
Osuna induced a double-play grounder by Burks and struck out Bichette. Hollandsworth then iced the game in the ninth with a two-run, two-out homer off Curtis Leskanic for a 6-2 lead. It proved pivotal when pinch-hitter John Vander Wal hit a two-run homer in the bottom of the ninth.
(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX / INFOGRAPHIC)
THE NL WEST
Dodgers 6, Colorado 4
San Diego 2, S.F. 1 (11)
WEST DIVISION RACE
WEST W L Pct. GB Dodgers 85 65 .567 -- San Diego 85 66 .563 1/2
TEAM W L Pct. GB San Diego 85 66 .563 -- Montreal 82 67 .550 2 Colorado 79 72 .523 6 Houston 78 73 .517 7
One wild-card team qualifies for the playoffs.